Friday, September 16, 2011

AG declares Pike utility's records open

The records of a controversial utility in Eastern Kentucky are covered by the state Open Records Act "because two public agencies supply at least 25 percent of the funds it expends in the state," The Associated Press reports. "Deputy Attorney General Patrick Hughes wrote that Utility Management Group, based in Pike County, must turn over records requested by the Pike [County] Fiscal Court."

Hughes found that two public agencies pay the company more than $11 million a year. "The company and various agencies have been locked in a records fight after officials became concerned because of an audit," AP reports, based on a story in the Appalachian News-Express. UMG head Greg May told the newspaper that the utility will appeal the ruling.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

AG again says Health and Family Services Cabinet violated Open Records Act

The attorney general's office has again cited the Cabinet for Health and Family and Services for failing to following the dictates of the Kentucky Open Records Act. This is the second time this year the attorney general's office has ruled that the cabinet violated the law in response to a request from Elizabeth Coleman, a cabinet employee.

In the Sept. 6 opinion, which has the force of law unless overruled by a state circuit court judge, Attorney General Jack Conway held the cabinet "committed both procedural and substantive violations" by failing to provide an employee with timely access to the records she requested.

Coleman filed a grievance with the cabinet June 10. On July 15, she filed a request under the provisions of the Open Records Act for records related to the grievance. On July 19, the cabinet replied it could not meet the three-day deadline required under the law but expected to fulfill her request by July 27. According to the attorney general's opinion, when Coleman heard no more from the cabinet by Aug. 3, she appealed to the attorney general, an option available to anyone who is denied records.

The cabinet told the attorney general's office it had replied on July 21. Coleman denies receiving a response before she filed the appeal on Aug. 3. In either case, the opinion said the cabinet failed to provide Coleman all the records she was entitled to review. The document she received was a single record indicating the disposition of her complaint, lacking any of the notes or interviews of those involved in reviewing her grievance.

In an opinion issued in April in an almost identical appeal, the attorney general's office ruled "The information to which she requested access is contained in the records reviewed and/or generated in the course of the investigation that resulted from the grievance she filed. She is entitled to inspect and copy “any record,” including investigator’s notes, that relate to the investigation. The cabinet’s refusal to allow her access to these records constituted a violation of the Open Records Act."

The cabinet can appeal the ruling to Franklin Circuit Court within 30 days to keep it from becoming final.

Foes of law letting optometrists use lasers may sue, alleging violation of Open Meetings Act

Although ophthalmologists and the Kentucky Medical Association strongly objected, a legislative committee appoved regulations Tuesday that will allow optometrists to perform some eye surgeries using lasers.

In answer, opponents say "they might file legal action against theKentucky Board of Optometric Examiners, which drafted the regulations, for failing to comply with the state's Open Meetings Act," reports Beth Musgrave of the Lexington Herald-Leader.

The regulations, passed under Senate Bill 110 of this year's General Assembly, now go to another legislative panel. If they pass, optometrists may be allowed to perform the surgeries by year's end. The bill has been cause for controversy, in large part because it passed through the legislature in a swift 12 days. Oklahoma is the only other state that gives similar operating privileges to optometrists.

Ophtalmologists said Tuesday the optometric board "used a task force appointed by the state optometric association, a trade group, to develop the regulations, and those meetings were held in secret with no public input," Musgrave reports. Legislators and optometrists disagreed, saying public comment was allowed at an open meeting in July, and the regulations were altered after task force members took the comments into consideration. (Read more)

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Hopkinsville paper publishes public officials' pay, makes readers aware of records

Many Kentuckians are not aware they can file open-records requests to obtain information they are entitled to see, such as salaries of public employees, reports Dave Boucher of the Kentucky New Era in Hopkinsville.

In a recent weekend issue of the paper (Aug. 27-28), Boucher reported that he filed 20 records requests to acquire information on city and county employee salaries. Al Cross, director of the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues, told Boucher that public officials in rural places "can feel like a request to know their salary is an invasion of privacy," a feeling that stems from rural community culture in which a public office can be regarded as a private possession.

People simply don't understand what types of information they are entitled to see, Cross told Boucher. According to the Kentucky Open Records Act, any agency that receives at least 25 percent of its funding from public sources is subject to a request, Boucher writes. There are some exemptions, including "unwarranted invasion of personal privacy" and classified information, but salaries are not on that list. (Read more)

Monday, September 12, 2011

AG rules Carter County Fiscal Court violated open meetings law by restricting recording

A Carter County Fiscal Court's resolution to restrict cameras and video recording of fiscal court meetings to the last pew of the fiscal court room" was overturned Thursday by Attorney General Jack Conway, Katie Brandenburg of The Independent in Ashland reports. Conway called the resolution "unenforceable and inimical to the public good."

The resolution was passed Aug. 9 after the court's request for "Mignon Colley, Carter County Republican chairwoman, to move her video camera," Brandenburg reports. After an unresolved complaint Colley made to Carter County Judge-Executive Charles Wallace, Colley filed an appeal with the attorney general's office.

Conway ruled, "The Carter County Fiscal Court cannot, by ordinance, executive order, or resolution, abridge the statutorily invested right to videotape public meetings." This decision is not "just an opinion" as Wallace told Brandenburg. The attorney general "issues legally binding decisions in disputes under the open records and meeting laws," the attorney general's website reports. The court must file an appeal in circuit court to contest this decision. (Read more)

Saturday, September 10, 2011

C-J, ACLU ask Conway to decide if Louisville's University Hospital is a public agency

Attorney General Jack Conway has been asked to decide "whether University Hospital is a public institution — an issue in the controversial plan to merge the University of Louisville’s main teaching hospital with two other health-care systems," Patrick Howington of The Courier-Journal reports.

ACLU of Kentucky and The Courier-Journal have appealed denials of open-records requests they made to University Medical Center Inc., which does business as University Hospital. "(University Medical Center) turned down both requests on grounds that it is a nonprofit corporation rather than a public agency and therefore isn’t subject to the act," Howington writes. An attorney general’s opinion on open records or open meetings has the force of law unless overturned in court.